Just how accessible should sources be?

I got asked something this week that comes up fairly often. Most PR pros have the same opinion on it, but I think they’re missing a bit of nuance that makes a big difference in media outreach success.

Here’s the deal – you’re pitching an expert to the media. You’ve got a timely hook and your source is solid. You know speed matters in this situation, so do you include the source’s direct contact info in your initial pitch? Or do you have the journalist work through you to set up the conversation?

There are pros and cons to this. If you ask journalists, 100 percent will say to include the source’s cell number and let them take it from there. They understandably disdain anything that smacks of “controlling PR people.”

On the flip side, many organizations want their PR pros to be on the calls when their employees talk to news media. Mostly for “defensive” reasons, like jumping in to prevent misunderstandings or even to have a “second witness” of how the conversation proceeds.

Another reason I hear is PR pros wanting their sources to know they are making things happen. If your client thinks the media are calling them up anyway, what do they need you for? You can see why journalists don’t value these justifications at all.

What’s my recommendation? I think in most cases you should have journalists work through you. But not for the reasons above. Instead, for a reason that serves both journalists AND your organization. Because you add value for both – you make it a better experience for both the journalist and your source.

Here’s the way you handle this in your pitch:

“Contacting me is the fastest way to reach Jim. I know how to get a hold of him when he wouldn’t otherwise be picking up his phone or answering email.”

Of course, for this to work you need to make it be true. You’ve gotta have the sense of urgency of a journalist on deadline, balanced with a detailed knowledge of your source’s schedule and communication habits.

I knew an agency exec who worked with a lot of surgeons, and he would literally connect journalists to the operating room and have a nurse hold the phone to the ear of the surgeon while they did an operation.

And it’s almost written into the job description of a university PR pro to be standing in the hallway outside a hard-to-reach professor’s classroom and hand them a cell phone connected to a reporter on deadline when class ends.

The principle to follow here isn’t “acquiesce to media’s needs at all costs,” nor is it to “push organization’s interest no matter what.” Do those and you’ll either have no job or no media relationships.

Instead, find ways to add value to journalists that are consistent with your organization’s needs.

This article was originally published on May 1, 2019

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